Like gender and sexuality, intimacy, and specifically the fear of intimacy, falls on a spectrum. In fact, 17% of people experience some level of distress around intimacy. For many who live with conditions like genophobia or erotophobia, this aversion could be rooted in physical or sexual trauma. But this is not the case for everyone. For some, it can be caused by body shame or dysmorphia, religious teachings, anxiety around performance or something else. In most cases, fear of intimacy develops during childhood. People with this fear may feel unsafe, unstable or unloved and, as a result, could have trouble with commitment, communication or perfectionism.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, our relationships with ourselves and others can benefit by following these tips to improve intimacy and vulnerability.
Reflect on your past experiences and relationships.
Since fear of intimacy is often rooted in the past, it’s worth taking the time to reflect and ask yourself a few questions: What were your parents like? Did you feel heard, seen and understood? How did your parents respond to high-stress situations? Acknowledging the relationships and emotions you experienced as a child is a great first step to help you better understand how you formed your relationship to intimacy and how it affects those around you.
According to holistic psychologist Nicole LePera, rebuilding a practice of daily self-compassion is the path of healing. This looks like removing attention to the critical, negative voice that many of us listen to and internalize, forgiving yourself for past mistakes, looking at past blunders as opportunities for growth, and, lastly, expressing gratitude for all that you have and what you have become. Though you may not feel worthy of receiving your own compassion, you most certainly are.
As with most changes in life, facing or overcoming your fear of intimacy is not going to happen overnight. You must be patient with your progress. For instance, adults with parents who were emotionally immature during their childhood need plenty of time to learn how to trust themselves so that they can learn to trust others. Remember: The more you pull away from others, the further away you are from making stronger, fulfilling connections.
Seek professional support.
Facing this fear or discomfort can be overwhelming. That’s OK! There are so many mental health resources, like therapists and therapy groups, that are available to support you. Working with a therapist will help you explore these fears and take the steps toward positive changes.